Congress Hotel Ghosts: Just the Facts

Having published that last article on the truth about the “Hand of Mystery,” I see that there are a LOT of web pages about ghosts at the Congress Hotel. Most of them appear to be the stories I’ve been telling about the place for the last several years after having gone through about five rounds of a game of “telephone.”  One could look at it as an object lesson about just how little research most web pages and TV shows do on the ghost stories they tell.

For a time I was able to take tour groups in here regularly, but those days are over; they’re much less free with letting groups past the lobby anymore (and refused to let the show I filmed a segment for there on Friday talk about anything to do with ghosts – they’re less open to this sort of thing now than they used to be).

But in that period of time I got to know the history and ghost lore of the place pretty darned well. I also (and this is pretty critical) learned to tell when a guard was just telling me what he thought I wanted to hear. Which they did quite a bit. I think that these days, every time someone calls and asks which room is the most haunted, they tell them a different room number.

That said, though, even my general skepticism, I’ve been known to say that if the Congress Hotel isn’t haunted, no place is haunted. Lots and lots of gruesome stories can be traced to it, and ghost stories do circulate.

Here’s a basic rundown of some of the place’s “greatest hits”:

The Little Boy
The boy is supposed to haunt the 12th floor, and is presumed to be the ghost of Karel Langer, a 6 year old who was thrown out the window by his mother, Adele, along with his brother, Jan Tommy, in the late 1930s. They were refugees from Prague; Adele was afraid they were going to be sent back and had a nervous breakdown. The story was widely reported in the press at the time; the only real confusion is whether the driving factor behind Adele’s breakdown was fear of being sent back to Nazi rule or oppression at the hands of German Americans. The press at the time reported it both ways. Several security guards say they’ve seen it, and several employees have felt as though they were being chased down the hall. That happened to me once, too.  Though different guards and front desk workers will tell you different things if you ask which room is the most haunted, the 12th Floor of the North Wing is pretty well agreed to be the spookiest one. I do know of employees who won’t go there if they can possibly help it.

This one’s my fault, guys.

The “Hand of Mystery.” 
This one is my fault. It started as a joke, then snowballed. See here.  No evidence that anyone was ever walled up inside the place, and the wall in question isn’t nearly thick enough. The hole in the wall where it resides is not typical available to the public (and may not be entirely safe). I’ve only been in the place where you can see it a handful of times.

Peg Leg Johnny
A few workers have told me, back as far as 2006, that they’ve seen a guy with a peg leg lurking around the south tower. When we first heard the story, a guy I was working with told me he’d found an article about a hobo with a peg leg being murdered there. I’ve still never seen the article, though, and don’t really have much reason to think it really exists. (edit to add, 8/2015): HOWEVER, I did have to think of Peg Leg Johnny when I read about Conway, the One-Legged Killer Clown, who was never seen again after escaping from prison in 1925. The Congress is just up the road from the site of a murder he was linked to, so, hey, why not? Rumors put him in Ohio after his escape, but I’d love to imagine that he died in the Congress Hotel. The Peg Leg ghost is one of the wilder stories, but there are several first hand witnesses, which is more than you can say for a lot of better known ghosts.

“The Shadow Guy”
This one gets reported by guests a lot – a shadowy figure who shows up and, for some reason, scared the crap out of people. One guard tells me he chased it up to the roof one time. We have some theories as to who it could be the ghost of, the most common of which is Captain Lou Ostheim, a Spanish American War vet who shot himself in the hotel in 1900, apparently after waking from a nightmare (though details are sketchy, and rely mainly on what the guys at the inquest landed on). The nightmare angle might be used to explain why it scares people so much; I’ve been on plenty of ghost investigations where we see a weird shadow, and when you actually see them, the typical response is, “Oh, there goes one now!” Not the screaming hysterics one sees on TV.

Al Capone
Never owned the hotel and never lived there – stories that he did are confusing the place with the Metropole and the Lexington. He probably was there a time or two and we can connect many members of his gang to it, though; some of his gang even held a guy prisoner there, probably on his orders, for a while. And one of the best ways to connect Capone to the St. Valentine’s Day massacre was that someone called his place in Florida from the lobby of the Congress a bit before and a bit after the shooting.   A number of gangsters – both from his gang AND the other local gangs – did live there in the 1920s. There are occasional reports of a ghostly guy dressed up like it’s the 1920s.

Disco Man
I’ve heard reports of a guy who appears and disappears looking like he just came out of a disco circa 1978, but never from a reliable source.

HH Holmes
Holmes can be traced to a couple of buildings nearby – like, a block or two away – but there’s no evidence putting him in the hotel itself. Given his connection to nearby buildings I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he came in to look around or have a drink when it first opened, but there’s never been any data unearthed connecting him to the place, but he wasn’t in town all that long after it was opened, and stories that he used to meet potential victims in the lobby are firmly in the realm of fiction.

The Sealed Room
The stories that one room is so haunted they had to seal it shut probably grew from the old stories about room 666 being sealed off (really, there’s an office where room 666 would be).  Lately I’ve heard a lot of stories about room 441 being the most haunted, but those are of fairly recent vintage – for a long time they’d just come up with a random room when you used which was the most haunted (though since this post was first published I think they’ve settled on 441, after it was written about a few times and a ghost tour company started staring their tours in the lobby). . The story that any of them were the basis of Stephen King’s 1408 is outright fiction that Ursula Bielski invented for her article on it in one of her books – in the book she says that “some researchers have come to the conclusion” that King used the story as the basis, but didn’t say which ones or how they arrived at that conclusion! Frankly, you show me a researcher who concludes that, and I’ll show you an idiot. King himself never mentions the hotel in his intro to “1408;” he just says that it’s his attempt at the old “haunted room at the inn” story that every horror writer should try out eventually.  While I was working for her at one point I called Ursula on it, and she just said, “Well, it makes a good story.”  I don’t work for her anymore, and can’t imagine I ever will again (she’s way into Donald Trump these days), so I suppose I can say that now.

The Florentine Room
Plenty of stories here – whispering women, humming men, phantom gunshots, and even Teddy Roosevelt (whose career died here, from a certain point of view, in 1912). Some of the coolest pics I’ve ever seen were taken here, and I’ve heard the piano play itself. Not a whole sonata or anything, just a couple of random notes, but a note or two is enough to give me the creeps. Several guards have stories about hearing music coming from the place. This is another place where there have been employees occasionally who don’t like to go near the place.

The Gold Room
Spookier-looking than the Florentine, but there’s really not as much ghost lore behind this one. One guard did tell me that he’d seen the peg leg guy here once. There are stories about the adjacent kitchen area, though. Disconnected equipment is said to start itself up.

Peacock Alley
The tunnel connecting the place to the Auditorium Theatre has been bricked off for years; one guard and I had a plan to bust into it with sledgehammers for a while. But where the entrance is depends a lot on who you ask; the basement isn’t accessible to the public. It’s pretty neat, though, especially if you like old mattresses and toilets. It’s like an ancient toilet burial ground down there.   (New band name: “Ancient Toilet Burial Ground.” I call it).

By the way: My favorite “death” story there isn’t ghost related: in 1928, G. Herb Palin, the sloganeer who coined the phrase “safety first” died there. It would be a great ironic story if he fell down the stairs, but it was heart issues. This comes up more than you’d think; for my filming there the other day they were doing some odd and deadly-looking chair stacking to get us seated at the right height, it was fun to point out that the guy who first said “safety first’ died in the place.

Well, that’s a pretty decent cheat sheet if you’re googling around looking for ghost stories about the place. I’ve got no respect for teams who think that running around with an EMF meter and taking pictures of “orbs” is a substitute for doing your homework. If you’re serious about looking for ghosts, remember what Indiana Jones said: we cannot take mythology at face value.

Not to make this a shameless plug, but for MUCH more detail see The Ghosts of Chicago book, which covers the place in a lot more depth. See also: some other Congress posts on this blog.

The Mystery Hand of the Congress Hotel

Welp,  I guess I have to fess up to this one. Apparently this story has gotten all out of control!

In 2006, I participated in a ghost hunt at the Congress Hotel, the first of several I’d be involved with over the next few years. Like most of them, we did more exploring than anything else. There’s a lot of exploring to do in that place – there are nooks and crannies and service hallways and unused rooms and space everywhere.

Behind the balcony of the Gold Ballroom, in one of several holes in the drywall, there was something that looked like a hand coming out of the all and gripping a crossbar. It was too far back to reach, but we all made some jokes about it being a hand. It was only when I blew up the pictures later that I saw that it really did appear to have fingers, a thumb, and everything:

A picture I took of the “hand’ in 2006 that turns up all over the internet (and TV, apparently).

It became a sort of a running joke. At first we called it “the Devil’s Hand.” Occasionally I’d show the picture of on tours and tell the story that it was “the Hand of Drywall Dave.” Often the story would go just like this: after showing the picture, I’d say “There’s certainly no evidence backing up any rumor that a worker was walled up inside the place, and it’s probably just a glove that got plastered over by some contractor with a weird sense of humor, but this could be The Hand of Drywall Dave, reaching out towards freedom!”  Willy, my old driver, always wanted to throw in a gag about Jimmy Hoffa, too. I never suggested that it was real, and always assumed that everyone knew it was just a gag.

But over time, I noticed it turning up on a handful of webpages. And last night, when I went to the Congress to film a segment for an upcoming Travel Channel show, the crew was all excited about the story that some guy was buried in the walls. Apparently it’s being taken as fact on a LOT of webpages. I made the story up fairy early in my career, when I was more casual about throwing out gag stories to fill time when we got stuck in traffic; I’ve since learned a valuable lesson that no story is so ridiculous that it won’t be taken as fact. Even the story I tell when we get stuck in traffic by a McDonald’s about a guy being haunted by the Hamburglar is probably going to turn up on TV sooner or later.

Last night, though, I did get to take the crew to see the “hand” – it’s still there. For a while it was thought to be a glove that got plastered over by some contractor with a weird sense of humor, but it’s deteriorated enough that it’s clearly not a glove. More likely, it’s just some caulk that happens to look like a hand. For the record, the wall it’s coming out of isn’t nearly thick enough for anyone to be buried in it.

I was actually able to touch it with a pipe that happened to be around there last night (there’s a lot of stuff lying around in those service hallways), and probably could have busted the thing, but I decided not to. The whole place would probably collapse if I did; it’d be just my luck to have it be a load-bearing mystery hand.

A wider show of the hole. The hand is
about dead center.

So, is Drywall Dave holding the place up single-handedly? It’s as good an explanation as any other for how the place has stayed in business!

I suppose the lesson here is that you can’t believe everything you read on webpages about ghosts and hauntings. The Congress, in particular, is one of those places where any “real” stories are getting buried by nonsense about Al Capone owning the place, a room being so haunted that it was sealed shut, etc. There have been plenty of gruesome deaths and reports of hauntings in there that can be traced and confirmed – there’s no need to make anything up.

Unless it’s just for the sake of a joke.

Note: now that I look, i see there are a LOT of webpages about ghosts in this place that read like my stories about the place after about five rounds in a game of “telephone.”  Purple monkey dishwasher. More on the congress:

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Dog

One of the venerable ghost stories of Chicago concerns the one survivor of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: Highball the dog, who was tied to one of the axles of the trucks in the garage. Some say it was his hysterical barking that brought the attention of the neighbors to the garage after seven guys affiliated (in one way or another) with the Moran gang were lined up against the wall and shot there. 

Highball
Though the dog was not killed (at least not right away; the cops apparently had to put him down), it’s said that his panic left a sort of “psychic imprint” on the grounds, and that, after the garage was torn down in the 1960s, dogs walked past the fence would go nuts. I stopped telling the story on tours long ago; too often, I’d tell the story, then someone would walk past the fence with a dog that didn’t react at all, and I’d end up looking stupid. I make it a point not to tell stories that can easily be dismissed. People can fact check me on their phones these days. I’m ready with an Evernote account full of primary sources on all the stories I tell (even though I know some people would prefer it if I exaggerated the stories and insisted that every legend and ghost story they ever heard was 100% true).
The other night, a couple of people actually snuck some dogs onto my tour bus in bags (crowds in October get kind of strange, to say the least). I normally don’t stop the bus at the massacre site – the old folks’ home on the grounds isn’t wild about tours, and there’s not much to see, anyway – but in this case, knowing that we had a dog aboard, I decided to give it a shot.
The dog, for its part, walked casually through the fence, relieved itself, and walked right back to its owner. 
No, for the record, we don’t allow dogs on the bus, with the rare exception of seeing-eye dogs.

Some Hull House Ghost Myths and Realities

Seeing as how October is coming around, I thought I’d clear up some things people are likely to start hearing about Hull House, the 1856 mansion that Jane Addams turned into a settlement house where she basically invented American social work.  That the house is haunted is a story going back to at least 1889, and some ghost sightings and weird stories there are quite well documented. But stories about the house, and especially the garden/court yard next door, get a bit wild. Most ghostlore and crime lore breeds some exaggerations, and much of it is fairly harmless. There’s no evidence that HH Holmes really tortured people in his basement, but there’s no real harm in thinking he did; it’s not like your besmirching the honor of a good man. However, if you’re going to go around slandering Jane Addams, we’ve got business.

Some stories I get questions about:

1. The garden next door was an Indian burial ground.
Not that anyone knows of. Without extensive archaeological work, we can’t say it for SURE (there were burials all over), but such a dig bringing anything like that up would be a surprise.

2. There used to be a well on the grounds of the garden next door, and  Jane Addams used to throw dead babies and fetuses into it.
Actually, the site next door a garden in Jane’s day at all – there was always a building there. First apparently an undertaking parlor (which ought to be spooky enough), and then a children’s center. Now, there was at least one baby who died in the children’s center. This was early in Jane Addams’ time at Hull House, and the original plan was to have the county bury it. This provoked a HUGE uproar in the neighborhood, cost them a lot of goodwill, and was eventually seen by Addams as a big mistake on their part, and a big failure to account for the culture of the neighborhood. Even if there was a well there, she would most emphatically not have thrown babies down it. Please, please do not show up at the Hull House museum with a shovel.

3. Jane Addams buried the Devil Baby alive in the garden.
A century ago, in autumn of 1913, a rumor went around the neighborhood that a “devil baby” with red scaly skin, horns, and the ability to swear in three langauges had been born nearby and was being hidden at Hull House. It was all the staff heard about for a good six weeks. This same story went around in a few other cities over the years. There’s no evidence at all that the baby was real, or even that a baby with some sort of deformity inspired the story. And even if there was, Jane Addams would never, ever have buried it alive. Again, please, please do not show up at the Hull House museum with a shovel.

The garden on a misty night in 2006.

4. Indians performed a “Ghost Dance” on the grounds in 1812 after the Battle of Fort Dearborn to curse the grounds.
The Ghost Dance movement came decades after 1812, for one thing. For another, given that Jane Addams won a Nobel Peace Prize, it would have been a fairly incompetent curse.

5. There’s a ghostly girl named Becky or Rebecca who haunts the house.
In the summer and fall of 2006, we got a LOT of photos on tours of what appeared to be a girl about 8-10 years old. Just, a LOT of them. And good ones, too – the kind that don’t require a lot of imagination to make you think it’s a ghost. No one had ever really talked about a ghostly girl there before, and the photos seemed to stop after about 2007, though I’ve seen one occasionally since then. We have many people who describe themselves as psychic on the tour, and in 2006 two of them said the girl was named Rebecca. For two psychics to tell us the same thing is pretty unusual, so we sort of went with it. The story has snowballed a bit over the years. I’ve never found good documentation of a girl named Rebecca – or, indeed, any girl that age – dying there.

6. The “haunted room” was really a “smush room.”
This is one that a few people have speculated on – that the real source of the “rustling noises” in the room Addams herself called “the haunted room” was really just lesbians having sex, and the “ghost” story was something they made up to cover for it. The exact nature of Addams’ relationship with Mary Rozet Smith, with whom she was spending a night in the room when she claimed to see a mysterious woman in a rustling dress, is up to speculation, and I’m in no position to say with any confidence what went on in their shared bed. However, a few of the stories about the haunted room and the woman in the rustling dress can’t be explained away with this explanation, and it’s all in the realm of speculation, anyway.

That said, here’s a basic rundown of some true stuff (much more is in the book linked in the banner at the bottom):

1. The grounds where the garden now stands was the site an an undertaking parlor when Addams moved in, and eventually was the site of the Hull House children’s center. At least one baby died there.

2. The house itself is probably the place where Millicent Hull died. Charles, her husband, was a spiritualist, so it isn’t impossible that he was holding seances in there in the 1860s. One of his sons may have died there as well (his other children died elsewhere).

3. In the 1870s, the house served as a home for the elderly run by a group of nuns. Many people died there in those days.

4. There was one bedroom that even Jane Addams herself referred to as “The Haunted Room,” and she herself thought she may have seen a ghost there one time – a woman in a rustling dress.

5. Even after taking literally hundreds of tour groups out there, even now I still have nights when I’ll step into the garden and get so freaked out that I step right back out.

6. Though I’m pretty conversant with all the things that can generate false positives here (various things like lamps and fireplace mantels can look remarkably like feminine forms in photos taken through the windows), now and then I still see one I truly can’t explain.

Julia Buccola: The Italian Bride – new findings, photos, and podcast!

Following a long research project, today I’ve published an article on The Order of the Good Death about Julia Buccola-Petta, the “Italian Bride” of Mt. Carmel cemetery.

Most Chicago ghostlore fans know the basics: at Mt. Carmel stands a statue of a woman, Julia Buccola, in her wedding dress. Beneath the life-sized edifice is a photograph of the Julia in her coffin. Though she appears not to have decomposed much, an inscription below states that the photo was taken when she had been dead for six years.

Legend has it that her mother, Filomena, had nightmares in which Julia demanded that her body be disinterred, and, though there are various scientific explanations, some say the well-preserved state of her body is a sign of holiness. I’ve been researching the story heavily for the last few months, including conducting interviews with Filomena’s great grandchildren, who provided a few photographs that have never been in circulation before.  Much of what I found came too late to be added to my new Ghosts of Chicago book, so I’m publishing it online, both here and in a new article for Caitlin Doughty’s Order of the Good Death.

Photo by Hector Reyes

 


And for you Chicago Unbelievable followers, I’m presenting here a new podcast on the subject (our first in over a year!), and, below, a detailed timeline of the Buccola and Petta families, as pieced together from records and interviews, with never-before-seen photos:




AN “ITALIAN BRIDE”  TIMELINE:


 

1909 – Enrique (Henry) Buccola arrives in Chicago from Palermo Italy. His brother Giuseppe (Joseph) appears to have already been in Chicago; his widowed mother Filomena and sisters, Rosalia and Guilia (Julia) remain in Palermo, Italy.  
 
Joseph and Henry Buccola. Henry
paid for Julia’s exhumation and the
new monument. Courtesy of
Antony Edwards, used by permission.

1910 – According to the census, Henry is living in Chicago with Joseph Buccola and his wife Anna in Chicago (per the census). Henry is working as a tailor, Joseph is a designer. Both are going by the “Americanized” versions of their names in records.

 
1911 – Rosalia Buccola emigrates to Chicago from Italy and marries Mariano Lunetta
 
1913/01/24 – a Sadie Lunetta is born to Mariano and Rosalia. She appears in some records as Lynn Sadie, and in most census forms under the name Rosaline. 
 
1913/08 –  Filomena Buccola, (Joseph, Henry and Rosalia’s mother), and Julia Buccola, (their sister), arrive in New York from Palermo en route to Chicago, where they’ll eventually move in with Henry in what is now the West Ukranian village.

1913/09 – The famous “Devil Baby” rumors swirl around Hull House. Filomena and Julia didn’t live in the Hull House neighborhood, but I’ve always liked to imagine that one of Filomena’s first acts as an American might have been to join the crowd of other old world women who went to Hull House demanding to see the (non-existant) devil baby.  
 
1915/09/15 – Joseph Lunetta is born to Mariano and Rosalia.
 
1917 – Henry Buccola, working as a tailor and living on the 2200 block of W. Erie, lists Filomena as solely dependent upon him financially in a draft card. Julia presumably lives with them, as well. 
 
1917 – Joseph’s draft card shows he’s working at the same place as Henry, though living a mile or two north.
 
1920, May – Julia is licensed to marry Matthew Petta.
 
1920, June 6 – Julia and Matthew marry at Holy Rosary Parish on Western Avenue (which still stands). They establish a home a couple of blocks away in an apartment building on West Huron Street, a block or two from Henry’s house (it, too, is still standing today). The apartment is pretty much in shouting distance of the house on Erie where Henry and Filomena are probably still living.
 
Filomena and Flora, her granddaughter,
in Chicago, a year or two before
Julia was exhumed. Courtesy of
Antony Edwards

1921 – March 17 – Julia dies giving birth to a stillborn son, just over nine months after the wedding. Her funeral is held at Rago Brothers, next to the church, and she is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside two days later. 

 
1922 – Joseph Buccola serves as witness to Mariano Lunetta’s naturalization as a U.S. citizen.
 
1923/04/08  Henry Buccola marries Anna Covolo in Chicago. Anna was born to Italian parents in Venezula and spoke Spanish.
 
1924 – Henry and Anna’s daughter, Flora, is born. 
1925 (or so) – Matthew Petta, Julia’s bereaved husband, marries Margaret Collins,  mother of a young boy named Eugene Miles. Eugene’s father is listed in the 1930 census a Missouri man; more info on him is unknown. Margaret is an Iowa woman of Irish descent.
 
 
1926/03 – Henry’s son Gaetano (“Guy”) is born in Chicago. Around this time, Henry and Joseph both move to Los Angeles, where the climate is closer to that of their native country. Filomena will spend the rest of her life going back and forth from Henry and Anna’s house in Los Angeles to Rosalia and Mariano’s in Chicago. She appears to have made the move with Henry and his family.

1926: According to the family, it was after the move to L.A. that Filomena began to have nightmares about Julia. The exact content of the nightmares is not known, though folklore in Chicago states that Julia was demanding to be dug up, or that Julie was still alive. If nightmares weren’t involved, it may be that Filomena wanted Julia moved out of a Petta family plot (though there’s no evidence that she was ever buried in a spot other than her current one).  In any case, Filomena begins to lobby for Julia to be disinterred. If this is really when the nightmares started, it was a fairly quick process. 
the monument
1927 – Julia is exhumed from her grave (at her brother Henry’s expense). Records do not indicate that she was moved; she seems to have be re-interred in the same plot. No primary sources or records regarding the circumstances of the exhumation have ever been uncovered, or of how in the world they got permission to do it, but a photo of Julia in her coffin is taken, establishing that it happened. Her face is still recognizable.
 
1927-8? – An elaborate new monument is commissioned at Henry’s expense – the current version with the life-sized statue, two messages from Filomena, two photos of Julia in her wedding dress and the one of her in her coffin, well preserved after six years in the grave. The name Filomena Buccola appears twice on the gravestone: the front reads “Filomena Buccola Remembrance of my Beloved Daughter Julia Age 29 yrs.” An inscription on the back says (in Italian) 
“Filumena (sic) Buccola I offer this Gift to My Dear Daughter Guilia.”

The seldom-noticed inscription on the back


Notably,  Julia’s married name, Julia Petta, appears nowhere on the monument. 

There is no record as to what the original monument (if any) looked like or said.

The immense cost of the new monument (believed to be in the 10k range) creates a great deal of friction in the family – Henry Buccola’s wife is said to be furious, and Henry himself apparently isn’t happy about it, either. But the monument is built. No one knows now what the cost is, but family lore speaks of Henry lamenting that if they just had that ten thousand dollars, they’d be set for life. 

 
1928: Flora, age 4, is unable to speak. A doctor says it’s merely confusion based on the fact that four languages are spoken in the house  (English, Italian, Spanish, and Filomena’s thick Sicilian dialect). Anna, her mother, decrees that only English will be spoken in the house. Flora will eventually be able to understand Italian as an adult.  
 
Filomena in the 1930s with Rosalia, her daughter
(Julia’s sister). Courtesy of Antony Edwards

1930 – In the census, Filomena is listed as being back in Chicago, living with Rosalia and Mariano and their children, Rosaline (Lynn Sadie) Lunetta (17) and Joseph Lunetta (14).

 
The same census shows Henry Buccola  in Los Angeles with his wife and two children, Guy and Flora. He is now working as a designer for women’s clothing. Joseph Buccola is now in LA, as well, doing the same work. 
 
1932 – Henry’s family (probably including Filomena) move into a new house in L.A. The family still owns the house today.

1930s: In the new house, Flora shares a room with Filomena. Later in life, she’ll tell her children stories about Filomena loudly praying the rosary at all hours, prompting her to shout “Shut up, Nonna!”

1934/06 – A son – with the same name as Julia’s stillborn child – is born to Matthew and Margaret Petta back in Chicago. 
 
Filomena with grandchildren Gaetano (Guy) and Flora
in California. Courtesy of Antony Edwards.

1940 – The census states that Filomena is now living with Rosalia and Mariano in an apartment just around the corner from Julia’s old place. By now, Rosalia and Mariano’s daughter, Rosaline / Lynn Sadie is in Los Angeles.

 
Matthew Petta is operating Matty’s Inn, a tavern, on Clark Street, near Division. He and Margaret also have an infant daughter (who passed away in 2013 while this article was being prepared).  Eugene is 16 (his father is now listed as Matthew, not a missouri man), their other son is five.
 
1943/01/16 Mariano Lunetta dies at 61 – burial at Mt. Carmel.
 
1943/05  Lynn Sadie Lunetta, age 30, is licensed to wed Arthur Golluscio (b 1891) in Los Angeles.  They are married 5 days later in a ceremony at which the officiant is a minister of the “Temple of Light Institution of the Masters.” Henry Buccola, her uncle, serves as a witness. 
1944/09/23 – Henry Buccola dies in  Los Angeles.
1945/03 – Rosalia Buccola-Lunetta dies in Chicago; Filomena moves in with Jospeh Buccola and his wife in Los Angeles.
 
1945/05 – Matthew Petta dies in Chicago, aged 55, and is buried at All Saints. His widow moves the children to Iowa.
 
Filomena’s burial plot (space 8), a few feet to the left
of Julia’s (space 5), at Mt. Carmel Cemetery. 
The Muscato family plot is between the two.

1945/10 Filomena dies in Los Angeles. She is buried in Chicago, a few feet away from her daughter’s grave.  Her space is unmarked, but only a few feet away from the massive monument that bears her full name twice.

2006 – Flora Buccola-Edwards, Julia’s niece and Filomena’s granddaughter, dies in Los Angeles, in the very house where she once shared a room with Filomena.  Described in her obit as a “fierce liberal” and “staunchly pro-labor,” the family suggests donations to the United Farm Workers of America in lieu of flowers.


 note: I’ve left out a handful of exact dates, addresses, and the name of one person still living.

Note: I’m grateful for the family and children of Flora Buccola-Edwards for the photographs and information, especially Antony and Mariana Edwards.

Again, for the full story, see the article on The Order of the Good Death.

Podcast audio with slideshow:

 

 

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Coming in September:

The Hitchhiking Flapper Ghost of Waldheim Cemetery

Resurrection Mary isn’t the only “vanishing hitcher” in the world; she’s not even the only one said to haunt Chicago. The south side has a vanishing girl who appears on CTA busses around Evergreen Park, for instance.

And Forest Park is home to vanishing “flapper” who was said to hitch hike from the Melody Mills ballroom to Jewish Waldheim cemetery, where she vanished. Some versions of the story say that she tells drivers that she lives at the caretaker’s house before disappearing at the gates.

Unlike Resurrection Mary, there aren’t many first-hand accounts of this, and there’s a bit of confusion as to whether the vanishing “Flapper” and the ghost who hitched rides from Melody Mill are even the same ghost. It seems to me that there are two different stories here that got conflated into one single one over the years.
The story of a hitcher at Melody Mill (a now defunct ballroom) have been circulating since at least 1938, and possibly earlier:  in 1984, Dave Hoekstra of the Melody Mill told the Sun Times about a story that had happened in the ballroom fifty years earlier in 1934: a young man named Wally met a blonde woman in a snow-white gown who asked for a ride home, and who then asked to be dropped off at Wood Lawn Cemetery. By then, though, they’d made a date. A week later, Wally went to her address, where the woman at the door said that the woman Wally described sounded like her daughter, but that she’d died three years before.  How much of this is an accurate description of Wally’s tale is tough to guess – Dave heard it second-hand from Ben Lecjar, Sr, the former owner, making it a third-hand account.
The story is, almost to the letter, a textbook retelling of the “Vanishing Hitchhiker” urban legend, featuring just about all of the major motifs except for finding a sweater on her grave the next day. One reason that the Resurrection Mary sightings are compelling is that, while details like going to her home the next day and meeting her in a ballroom are common in retellings of the story, they’re generally absent in first-hand accounts (there’s a bit of a distance between the story that you get from reading reported sightings and the version you usually hear when the story is retold). This Melody Mill story lines up neatly will all the motifs of vanishing hitcher legends that folklorists were identifying in scholarly articles a decade later.

The Melody Mill story got a big boost in 1938 when Tiny Hill, the leader of a band playing there at the time, told the story of a vanishing hitcher live on a WGN radio show. Tiny’s story may have been inspired by the story of “Wally”and changed a bit for dramatic purposes, or it may be the actual source of the story, if Hoekstra was wrong about 1934 being the date when the story began.

According to the radio show, three young men met a woman in white at the ballroom. She asked them for a ride home, then got out of the car at an unnamed cemetery and ran inside. Two of the young men followed her. The next day, the police found two “raving maniacs” in the cemetery, and the third man was dead at the wheel of his parked car. Investigators went to an address they found in a purse that was left in the car, and the woman at the door told them that it was her daughter’s purse, but that she had died three years before.

The Daily Northwestern wrote that “It was a good publicity stunt – and how!”
So we can see that the story of a vanishing hitcher was common at Melody Mill in the 1930s, though it’s hard to be sure it wasn’t invented outright by Tiny Hill.  Whether anyone ever really thought it was a true story in the 1930s is probably an open question. Had “Wally” really been to her home, they would know the ghost’s name, but this doesn’t seem to have been a part of the story.
While most Chicago ghostlore studies have assumed that the vanishing flapper who is said to disappear near Waldheim and the Melody Mill hitcher were one and the same, it seems to me that we’re dealing with two different stories that simply got conflated over the years. The sightings of the ghost at Waldheim have generally concerned a young, dark haired Jewish woman in a flapper outfit. The Melody Mill hicher is said, both in reports of sightings and the fictionalized version, to be a blonde in white. Which cemetery Tiny Hill mentioned (if he mentioned one) is not recorded, but people from Melody Mill actually specified Wood Lawn.

So it seems that we’re really dealing with two different stories here. There are records for several young women who died around the 1920s at Waldheim, but unlike Resurrection Mary, no theory for who she’s the ghost of have emerged. Frankly, no good theory for Mary exists, either – I never found a reliable account where “Mary” actually gives her name, or any hint of how she died. There are 60+ young women named Mary who were buried at Resurrection around the right era, and we’ve identified plenty who died in car wrecks, but stories of her being the ghost of a girl who died coming home from a dance are really pure specuation; there’s almost nothing in first-hand accounts to suggest that she died this way. From what we can actually tell, she could just as easily be one of the many, many girls in the cemetery who died of pneumonia or tuberculosis.

There’s a whole LOT more data analysis on Mary sightings in the new book below:

The Woman in Red at the Drake Hotel

Let me just share a bit from the Trib’s report on a burglary and murder from the Drake Hotel in 1925, when a group of drunken men in Lone Ranger-style masks burst into the place with guns blazing: “(the bandit) flourished his guns and expressed himself in some choice profanity calculated to impress his victims with the desirability of obedience.” I love that.

The Drake in 1920. Cap Streeter had JUST been kicked out of
“Streeterville,” so much of the area was still oddly empty.

The Drake, like any old hotel, has some gruesome stories behind it. There was the story of “The Woman in Black” who murdered Adele Born Williams there in 1944 – a bizarre case that was never solved. Leopold and Loeb were interrogated there. Their victim’s father later died there. A baroness was found dead in a bathtub there in 1962.

But the main ghost story about it, the one that everyone in the building seems to know, concerns a “woman in red” who mainly haunts the tenth floor. According to legend, it’s the ghost of a woman who caught her husband cheating at a New Year’s party in 1920, just after the hotel first opened, and threw herself from a tenth floor window.
If this suicide truly happened, it doesn’t seem to have made the papers – I’ve never seen anything to back it up. There was a former model who jumped from a tenth floor window, but she was an older woman (the kind papers back then described as “once beautiful”), and it was decades after the hotel opened.

But there’s a chance that such a suicide WOULDN’T have been reported in 1920; the hotel was presenting itself as the finest in the world, and probably would have gone to great lengths to keep such a suicide out of the press. Had the woman landed on the sidewalk, there probably would have been no way to stop the story from leaking. However, if she landed on the roof of the setback, they COULD have possibly had the body removed without any reporters finding out. But some mayhem from the New Year’s party did make the papers – one woman lost (or was robbed of) a $5000 necklace during the party. A week before another woman had lost a $1000 pearl and emerald ring in the washroom.

My team’s recent investigations at the hotel have not yet turned up anyone who knew anyone who had actually seen the woman in red, so where the story came from seems to be, like so many ghost stories, anyone’s guess at this point. There are many other places around the hotel where the staff is known to get spooked, but there aren’t as many specific ghost stories there as I would frankly expect from such a historic hotel.

The Woman in Black at the Drake Hotel


This story was published on the blog in several parts four years ago; this is a “collected version” to replace the multi-part story:

 

In January, 1944, Mrs. Adele Born Williams, a 58 year old society “matron,” walked up to her eighth floor apartment at the Drake Hotel with her daughter and found the door unlocked. Inside, they found a gray-haired woman in a black persian lamb coat who had been hiding in the bathroom. Without a word, the woman pulled from her purse an antique pistol and fired two shots at Williams’ daughter. She missed, then left the bathroom and fired several shots at Mrs. Williams, eventually hitting her in the head, causing a wound that would prove fatal within hours. The fur-coated woman then walked out of the room and was seen by a couple of men before Williams’ daughter cried for help. “I could have tripped her,” one of them men later said, “but I’m not in the habit of tripping strange women.”   Later reports said her daughter chased the woman down the stairwell, yelling “stop that crazy woman, she shot my mother.” 


And so began a case that got stranger and stranger. Among the twists in the tale:

– Police launched a massive search of the hotel and found nothing. However, four hours later, the murder weapon was found, shattered, in a stairwell, apparently having been dropped from a high floor. Police had search that place – then gun had apparently been returned to the scene of the crime!

– Similarly, a spare key to Williams’ room was reported missing from the front desk at the time of the murder. Mysteriously, it appeared back on the desk at 10 o’clock that evening.

– Mrs. Williams had $100,000 in cash in a safety deposit box for reasons unclear.

– Mrs. Williams herself seems to have been a bit odd; a commenter on the original version of this story remembered being a small child and living nearby her, and seeing her running out of the house the family rented in peach-colored pajamas; the word at the time was that she had mental problems, but this may just be a rumor.

– No jewelry or valuables were taken, leaving the motive somewhat unclear.

– Just before the murder, a phone call had been placed from Mrs. Williams’ room to a fish and ale house two blocks away.

– One woman who worked the desk at the hotel at the time was a convicted hold-up girl with a bizarre past – much more on her below. 

THE MYSTERY OF THE YEAR

The mystery remains unsolved. There was never a suspect, and though various motives were suspected, none of them really held up. It was a huge story in 1944, and mentioned at least once a year on the anniversary in newspapers for at least a decade later (interestingly, as of the late 1950s, the Trib was still spelling “clue” c-l-e-w.). Today, it’s been almost totally forgotten.

 

One of the theories to emerge was that there had never been a woman in a fur coat, but that Mrs. Wiliams’ daughter, then known as Mrs. Goodbody, had shot her mother herself in the midst of a fight over the gun. One police lieutenant, Lt. Quinn, was sure that this was the case, and alleged that no call for help had been made until 10 or 15 minutes after the shooting (this was refuted by witnesses).

The theory Quinn had arrived on was that the killing had either been an accident in the midst of a struggle after her daughter announced her intention to kill herself, or that it had all been pre-planned by Mrs. Goodbody and her father and that the reason the gun wasn’t found (right away) was that the father/ex-husband (who certainly did hear about the shooting before the police did – he was the daughter’s first call) had smuggled it out. According to this theory, Mrs. Williams was annoyed at her daughter for some reason and was planning on writing her out of her will.

At one point in the investigation, when Quinn demanded, rather harshly, that she “tell the truth,” Mrs. Goodbody allegedly said “Well, I’ll tell you…” then stopped. Some said she was withholding evidence, others say she had been ordered to say nothing about anything by her father’s attorney, who was already present.

Quinn (who comes off as a real jerk in the story) was convinced within minutes of investigating the scene that there was never a woman hiding in the bathroom, and that there couldn’t have been room for her, since an ironing board attached to the door would have taken up too much space. More investigations, however, showed that there was plenty of space for the “woman in black” to hide.

One major piece of evidence in Mrs. Goodbody’s favor was the testimony of the victim herself. The shot in the head didn’t kill Mrs. Williams right away, and she was still able to talk to two people who came into the room to help. Though she repeated the name “Goodbody” a few times, she said that shooter was a woman in black with a rose in her hair, and that it was no one she knew. She was later quoted as saying that the shooter had said “I will get you yet!” and that she thought the woman was firing blanks. Other witnesses also described a mysterious woman in black with something red in her hair fleeing the scene. 

Naturally, Mrs. Goodbody herself was royally ticked off about being accused of being her mother’s REAL killer. Eventually, Capt. Harrison, one of the main detectives, determined that there was, in fact, a third party in the room: the mysterious woman in black. Mrs. Goodbody was never charged.

THE MURDER WEAPON

 

The best evidence in the case was the murder weapon – an antique pistol. The serial number was traced to a fellow named Walter Brown, who said that he stole the gun in Bloomington during a hold-up in 1939 – but turned it into the police. Brown was certainly not a suspect – he was in prison at the time, serving a life sentence for the murder of a McClean County deputy sheriff. According to his story, the gun had been in police custody for five years. How the serial number connected it to him is a mystery to me, since the police never believed he ever really owned it.

The police denied his story, although the officer he had given it to admitted that he’d received other guns from Brown, who was a lifelong friend. The police felt that there was no evidence that Brown had ever legally owned the gun – in fact, Brown’s insistence that he had owned it was the only real thing tracing it to him.

By way of proof, Brown could only say that he had used it to fire several shots into the ground outside of a Hwy 51 roadhouse five miles north of Bloomington one time. The police dug up the whole area and found several bullets, but they were the wrong caliber for the gun in question.

But there was something else to connect Brown to the case – the police officer wasn’t the only person who had ever received a gun from Brown. His sister had, some time before, borrowed one and used it in an attempted hold-up, for which she was on probation.

And at the time of the Woman in Black murder, she was working the front desk at the Drake Hotel.

THE MYSTERIOUS ELLEN BENNETT
 
Ellen Valanis Bennett Larksworthy Welch

So the claims of an Indiana convict that he had owned the murder weapon couldn’t be verified (how the serial number connected it to him is something I’m a bit confused about), but it did lead the police to his sister, who was on probation after using one of his guns in an attempted hold-up, and was, at the time of the murder, working the key desk at the Drake Hotel.

Actually, he had TWO sisters at the Drake, Ellen, a desk clerk, and Anna, whom the Tribune described as a “hotel prowler.”

To say that Ellen Valanis Bennett Larksworthy Welch, alias Ellen Murphy but generally still called Ellen Bennett in the press at the time, had an interesting past barely hints at the matter. A sixth grade drop-out, she married Acott Bennett, a 57 year old, when she was 15, and bore him a son, who sort of disappeared (he was once reported to be a marine). They were divorced after six months of marriage, and Ellen enrolled at Norhtwestern University using a high school diploma that actually belonged to a friend, Eva Soloway, whose name was was using – you might say she was a sort of low-rent identity thief. In 1939, Ellen, who was still formally known as Mrs. Bennett, had borrowed one of her brother’s guns, plus some tape and cords to tie people up, and attempted to hold up a woman in Park Ridge. At the time, she was wearing a blond wig over her red hair, and was driving a car owned by a state senator (who was dead by 1944). When caught, she pretended to be a “night club entertainer” named Peggy Ryan. She was put on probation.

Anna, Ellen’s sister, the “hotel prowler”

In 1941, she was living on the near-west side under the name Ellen Larkworthy, wife of a guy named Vere H. Larkworthy, whom she had married in Milwaukee, where she was living as a barfly while her sister worked as a call girl. She bought several jewels with his money, insured them, and then reported them stolen in a case so fishy she was put on a lie detector test. Larkworthy, apparently another old guy, was murdered shortly therafter, and Ellen was questioned, but not charged. Before his death, he described their courtship as “I came back from the races and met Ellen at a hotel…..we drank, and the next thing I remember I was in Dubuque and married.” They were married only a few weeks before Ellen left him – by then, she had taken him for all he had. His murder was never solved.

Ellen then married for a third time, to a guy with whom she lived for only a few days. At the time of the Drake murder, she 41 years old and was was working as a desk clerk, living in the hotel under the name Ellen Murphy. Both friends and the police described her as cold blooded and with a real penchant for diamond and jewels – which Mrs. Williams had in abundance. She would have been the one to give the woman in black the spare key used to break into the room – and which mysteriously turned up on Ellen’s desk that night.  She was, at the time, occupying a suite in the hotel with her latest lover, Patrick Murphy, whose brother, Francis, was at one time the state labor director.

Two weeks before the murder, a call was made from Ellen’s room at the Drake to The Pub, a fish and ale house a couple of blocks from the hotel. A mysterious call from Mrs. Williams’ room was made to the same location a couple of hours before the murder.

Under questioning, Ellen DID admit to owning a black fur coat, but said she did not own a wig and had never been in Mrs. Williams’ room. She went back and forth on whether she was in the hotel at the time or the murder or in a nearby restaurant, and voluntarily submitted to (and passed) several ie detector tests. Both Ellen and her sister were arrested twice in connection to the murder, but were freed on a writ of habeus corpus. Despite extensive investigations, charges against her never quite stuck. I’ve never found out what became of her; she would be well over 100 today, but I like to imagine her still hanging around in hotel bars in the 1980s, flirting with much younger men; a wealthy widow with a terrible secret.
 

The murder of Adele Born Williams was never solved; the woman in black was never identified. I’ve not been able to determine why, exactly, Ellen Bennett was let off the hook; they probably never had anything but circumstantial evidence on her. To me, it seems pretty likely that she was in the room, trying to steal the jewelry, and freaked out and started shooting. But the police had other theories besides this one, even years after the case dropped from the public eye. It was the story of the year in 1944 (besides, you know, world war 2), but has barely been mentioned in the last half century.

BUT – there is a ghost!

THE GHOST?

The Drake is not one of the more notably haunted hotels in the city, but there are a couple of ghost stories floating around – one about a woman in red on the tenth floor, and one about a woman in black on the eighth. This story would be an odd way to back that one up – the woman in black was the murderER, not the murderEE.

My guess is that this is a case of a mistaken history. Most likely, when some employee was asked if there was a ghost story, he or she remembered that there was some story about a “woman in black” attached to the hotel, and thought it was a ghost story, not a murder.   We’ll cover “The Woman in Red”  ghost in the same hotel later on this week!